Almost half of businesses in England don’t display their food hygiene ratings, according to figures from the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

Rates of displaying stickers visible from outside the premises was 52 percent in England, 87 percent in Wales and 84 percent in Northern Ireland. Display became mandatory in Wales in November 2013 and Northern Ireland in October 2016.

In England, companies are not required by law to display their rating but more than three-quarters of businesses in the country said introduction of compulsory display would be a good thing. Just under a third of firms say they display the rating because they believe it is compulsory.

Establishments that do not display their rating do so because they have lost the sticker or certificate, because it is not compulsory, it is not relevant to the business or as they have a low rating.

Higher rating means more likely to display
The Food Hygiene Rating Scheme (FHRS) launched in 2010 is run by FSA and local authorities. The system helps consumers make decisions about where to eat or shop for food by providing information about hygiene standards at the time of inspections by local authorities.

Premises are awarded a rating based on food hygiene standards ranging from 0 when urgent improvement is necessary to 5, which is “very good.” It covers firms supplying or serving food to consumers, such as restaurants, pubs, cafés, takeaways and hotels, as well as supermarkets and other retailers.

In England, businesses with a higher rating are more likely to display than those with a lower one. Over two-thirds (70 percent) of those with a rating of 5 are displaying it compared to 31 percent with a rating of 3 and 17 percent of those that have a rating of 0 to 2.

Around a third of establishments in each country say displaying their rating has had a positive impact on business. Customer assurance (66 percent) was the main motivation for display in England followed by being proud of their rating (35 percent). However, only 8 percent report having customers who commented on the scheme and 11 percent had consumers remark on their rating.

Most sites that receive a rating of 4 or below are taking action to improve (81 percent in England, 82 percent in Wales and 79 percent in Northern Ireland). This includes purchasing additional equipment or doing repairs, cleaning equipment more regularly, monitoring fridge temperatures and improving records and training.

Display not always matching records

Research assessed the proportion of businesses displaying food hygiene ratings by using mystery shopping audits. Auditors visited 500 establishments in each of the three countries.

A telephone survey with firms in England, Wales and Northern Ireland looked at business attitudes towards the scheme and, in Wales and Northern Ireland, to determine the impact of compulsory display.

Nine in ten of those that say they are displaying in England say their rating is visible from the outside, with the remaining 10 percent saying it is visible inside the premises only. However, this differs from those seen during mystery shopping audits – 52 percent of outlets were found to be displaying ratings outside with a further 5 percent displaying them inside.

In England, 88 percent are displaying ratings that match those in the FHRS database, while 12 percent are showing higher than in the database and 1 percent a lower rating.

Recent spot checks by the City of London Corporation’s Trading Standards officers found that out of 140 food premises visited, 22 were displaying a FHRS sticker higher than what they were entitled.

Trading Standards visited the offending premises and ensured inaccurate stickers were removed. Each visit was followed up with a written warning to the food business. The City of London Corporation supports a change in the law requiring food outlets display their score publicly.

Angela Towers, head of the FSA’s food hygiene rating team, said: “People have a right to trust that the hygiene rating displayed in a restaurant’s window is accurate and we are pleased that the City of London Corporation has taken action against a small minority of food businesses who have sought to mislead the public.”

In Northern Ireland, 95 percent of ratings on display match the database, while 4 percent are displaying higher and 1 percent a lower rating. In Wales, 92 percent are displaying ratings that match the database, while 6 percent are showing a higher rating and 2 percent a lower rating.

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